Science and Natural History discussion

The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth's History
This topic is about The Emerald Planet
22 views
Group Reads > November 2011 - The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth's History by David Beerling

Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Emma, Inactive group creator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma | 95 comments Mod
Share your thoughts and reviews about or November read.


message 2: by Emma, Inactive group creator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma | 95 comments Mod
A snazzy little report relating to Chapter 3: Oxygen and the lost world of giants.

Raising giant insects to unravel ancient oxygen.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/...


message 3: by Haaze (new) - added it

Haaze | 38 comments Emma wrote: "A snazzy little report relating to Chapter 3: Oxygen and the lost world of giants.

Raising giant insects to unravel ancient oxygen.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/..."



Very cool article! Thanks Emma! I posted it in my class' newsfeed in zoology. I wonder why the cockroaches responded the way they did to the elevated oxygen? Seems strange that the hyperoxic ones would have more narrow tracheal tubes. Hmmm.... perhaps the high levels of oxygen were toxic to them. They did not talk much about how high level oxygen could actually damage the tissues. Perhaps it is a protective response to high oxygen? Who knows? Still interesting to read about. :)


message 4: by Haaze (last edited Nov 17, 2011 03:51PM) (new) - added it

Haaze | 38 comments Since I won't start the book until Sat I wonder about your impressions so far? Is it painting the early history of the planet in a cool way? It kind of sounds like a book that Peter Ward would write...?

I came across this review in American Scientist:
http://www.americanscientist.org/book...


message 5: by Haaze (last edited Nov 19, 2011 02:35PM) (new) - added it

Haaze | 38 comments Just started out. Plants are not my strength so this is inspiring material. One thing I like about books like this one is how it covers the immensity of deep time. I can juggle the numbers (millions and billions of years), but somehow always fail to really get a true sense of the immensity of the deep time aspects that evolutions works within. I think that deep time should be something we start talking about in first grade so we have a chance to wrap our mind around it in a better way as we get to high school and beyond. Most people have no clue about the events that occurred in Earth's history (i.e. the history of life) even though these events seem to be the most important ones we should take in to get a feel for the planet we live on. Anyways, it looks like a great read. Onwards.....!!!


message 6: by Emma, Inactive group creator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma | 95 comments Mod
Haaze wrote: "Just started out. Plants are not my strength so this is inspiring material. One thing I like about books like this one is how it covers the immensity of deep time. I can juggle the numbers (million..."

I'm glad you're enjoying the book. I am too though I've not read it for a week! I must get back to it.
I like how everything is so clear and concise. It's been very easy to absorb and understand without having the feeling of being spoken down to.

I agree with you about the vastness of geological time being taught from a young age. It would certainly help everyone grasp a plethora of concepts much better and nurture a deeper appreciation of how amazing life is and the epic journey every species has been on to get to the present day.

With regards to the article I posted, you were right in that the responses were to reduce oxygen toxicity. Oxygen produces free radicals that cause tissue damage thus the damage is augmented at higher concentrations. The book for December "Oxygen: the molecule that made the world" by Nick Lane really goes into in all in (much) better detail and is very interesting.

Thank you for the review you posted. I read it briefly but will certainly to go back to it properly when I finish the book to see how my opinion fits.


message 7: by Haaze (new) - added it

Haaze | 38 comments Emma wrote: "Haaze wrote: "Just started out. Plants are not my strength so this is inspiring material. One thing I like about books like this one is how it covers the immensity of deep time. I can juggle the nu..."

I know exactly what you mean. The danger with books is to get spread too thin (especially as life in general is providing plenty of tasks to attend to). I definitely need to focus myself, which is what I am hoping that this group will do for my urge to read more natural history books. In regards to the review I tend to get back to them myself (very funny) as I do not like spoilers. I guess it is not too critical with nonfiction books though. I very much took interest in that oxygen article you posted, since I had not read much about those experiments previously. By the way, will not "Oxygen" provide a pretty large overlap with the current book? Besides, it seems as if you have read that book already?


message 8: by Emma, Inactive group creator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma | 95 comments Mod
Haaze wrote: "Emma wrote: "Haaze wrote: "Just started out. Plants are not my strength so this is inspiring material. One thing I like about books like this one is how it covers the immensity of deep time. I can ..."

Yeah, finding time to read can sometimes be hard if not almost impossible. I'm lucky as the survey season has wound down a bit now so I have more free time hence I can rummage the web for articles. I'm glad you liked it by the way.
"Oxygen" will provide a bit of a time overlap as it delves into the role of oxygen during the Earth's early history at least for part of the book. It's also interesting to read about an alternative theory to the "oxygen holocaust" in the early history of life. The rest of the book is given over to free radicals, antioxidants, the role of oxygen in ageing and fighting cancer and physiological adaptations of organisms to oxygen. There are a couple of scientific blips in the book but it's very interesting reading regardless.
I have indeed read the book but I don't mind at all. I don't ever nominate books or vote in the poll because it seems inappropriate for a moderator to do so. Besides I created this group for others as much as myself and I'll enjoy seeing what you guys make of the book. I might end up flicking through it again lest I contribute to the discussion and make a fool of myself ^_^.


message 9: by Haaze (last edited Nov 22, 2011 03:29PM) (new) - added it

Haaze | 38 comments Hmm, I definitely think that the moderator should be able to nominate books in a group (all members should nominate, don't you think?). I think that one of the strengths of creating a group is that one can steer the group in specific directions (including subtle ways like new threads etc). Anyways, sounds like 'Oxygen" is more of a collection of topical essays on the role/implications of oxygen?


message 10: by Haaze (last edited Nov 22, 2011 03:43PM) (new) - added it

Haaze | 38 comments In the introduction the author really pushes the neglect of plants in terms of their roles in biological evolution as well as in the geological processes. His reference to Richard Dawkins The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution in terms of its lack of references to plants was quite dramatic! The point is well taken. Plants are definitely neglected in the public mind (apart from food or beauty) as well as in the mind of most biologists. We are not trained (generally speaking) to focus on plants unless one moves into the realms of botany proper or plant ecology. The whole kingdoms seems to be some type of bystander that cheers on the animal kingdom. It is kind of silly in a way. The same thing is true for the fungi as well as the numerous microbial life forms on the planet (I think they get the least credit overall). The extreme influence of plants on animal evolution is obvious as soon as one starts to consider the question. The different systems on the planet have of course been affected in a similar fashion by the activities of plants. I sense that the author definitely provides the scope for his book by his elegant introduction. It makes me want to renew my emphasis on plants when I move through zoology. Go Plants!!!!!

Richard Dawkins The Ancestor's Tale A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins


message 11: by Emma, Inactive group creator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma | 95 comments Mod
Haaze wrote: "Hmm, I definitely think that the moderator should be able to nominate books in a group (all members should nominate, don't you think?). I think that one of the strengths of creating a group is that..."

I have to admit I did nominate a book for November which I didn't feel comfortable putting in the poll then I voted on the poll and retracted my vote because that felt odd too. I think it's because at the moment the group is so small that one vote could change the outcome of the poll completely. Seeing as the book nominations have been of such good quality I've been given a great deal of confidence that good books will be chosen in the future too.

Plants are definitely underappreciated by many. My experience at university solidified that notion as there was only one plant module available (I did take a forest ecosystems module but that didn't include looking at the biology of the forest organisms themselves). I'm not sure how it is elsewhere in the world but botany degrees are few and far between. In addition there are few up and coming ecologists who have plant identification skills which concern a great many. Lack of species identification skills of new graduates generally is poor for all organisms to be honest. Similarly to the geological time education we discussed previously, introducing plants sooner breeds familiarity and hopefully then interest. There are a number of people that take interest in plants but unfortunately they only have a vested interest in their aesthetic appeal rather than say, their ecological role. According to Plant Life there are approximately 70 000 non native species available to buy in the UK and the Royal Horticultural Society estimates that non natives comprise 70% of garden species. This is a bit of a rant as it's a pet peeve of mine but it drives me crazy that people pull up the less vivacious natives that many would consider "weeds" to plant ecologically inferior or redundant species. I will readily admit I'm a bit hardnosed about the native vs. non native plant debate but for me if bugglies don't eat it and live on it said plant can go to the big compost bin in the sky.
Phew! Sorry about that. GO PLANTS!!!! indeed.


message 12: by Haaze (last edited Nov 23, 2011 12:34PM) (new) - added it

Haaze | 38 comments Emma wrote:."
I definitely think that everybody has a vote! :)
In terms of plants I have exactly the same experience with one exception. In my freshman year (we took only biology for 20 weeks straight) we had one week devoted towards plant physiology and one week towards plant taxonomy. The latter was very cool as we lived in cabins for a whole week and ventured out to different plant communities each day to key plants. That was definitely the beginning of a love affair with plants and organisms overall. However, the emphasis (especially here in the States) has been very low and plants are clearly on the bottom of the list. Most freshman/sophomore year courses go through the principles of biology with an emphasis on the abstract (e.g. phloem transport) or the molecular realm in general. The overall knowledge of the organisms that exist around us in our daily life is minimized. Most students leaving such a class have not learned to identify any of the plants and animals they encounter in their daily life. What is it like in the UK? Plants are omnipresent and should seemingly take up a considerable portion of one's identification knowledge, don't you think?
I am with you on the native plant rant - here in California invasive plants are going bonkers while people plant exotic water requiring plants in their backyards. There are so many amazing native plants here that would thrive if people just were aware about them. So this is a problem in the UK as well? How is the invasive species situation overall on the islands?


message 13: by Emma, Inactive group creator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma | 95 comments Mod
Haaze wrote: "Emma wrote:."
I definitely think that everybody has a vote! :)
In terms of plants I have exactly the same experience with one exception. In my freshman year (we took only biology for 20 weeks strai..."


That trip you did as a freshman sounds good. We did a few day or half day outings too look at communities and to gather data for assignments but nothing more.
From my experience identifying plants is generally not taught at undergraduate. There are external groups and organisations that run courses but of course this can become rather costly. For my MSc I was fortunate to be able to take an ID module which included a lot of plants but we barely scratched the surface. I did come away with a good knowledge of plant anatomy making keys less difficult to decipher for the grasses and ferns especially. I agree that more ID is needed at an earlier stage.
Wow! Yeah. Water security is a big thing especially in more arid areas such as California. Such a precious commodity. On a field course to Tenerife we were told the south side of the island has water security issues not least of all because of tourism... And watering random areas of grass in the middle of the day! The mind boggles.
I was going to do a list of some of the non native invasives we get in the U.K. but I came across the following link which tells you a little about them too.

http://www.plantlife.org.uk/uploads/d...

There are legal implications associated with invasives as well. If an invasive spreads from your land onto someone else’s you are liable for legal action. I'm not sure many people know that though.
With less and less room for wildlife as there is here plus the invasives it's concerning but every year there are Himalayan balsam bashing parties and rhododendron removal weekends, etc. Some of the aquatic plants are really difficult. There's a park/nature reserve about an hour away from me that were planning on an eradication of an aquatic invasive they had in one of their lakes. They were going to have to apply biocide into the water for a couple of successive years to get rid of it then some kingfishers moved in so the project couldn't go ahead. Kingfishers are given legal protection under the Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 so they would have broken the law.


message 14: by Emma, Inactive group creator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma | 95 comments Mod
My review:

Over all an excellent book. Beerling’s style of writing makes this book accessible to everyone. He is clear and concise which reminded me of the no nonsense approach of journal articles. In some places this means a humorous remark or observation reads awkwardly.
There were a couple of parts of the book that I felt deviated from plants for a little too long. The fact I was left thinking “Get on with the plant stuff already” is a credit to Beerling and his ability to draw the reader into a subject matter.
This next gripe is a bit petty but I hate it when the notes are at the back of a book! It is more in tune with the academic style to have notes after the text but in a popular science publication flicking to and fro from the reading page to the notes was driving me crazy. I hate interrupting my reading flow and it pains me to think some people may not have even bothered to read them.


back to top